Wednesday, September 8, 2004

DES MOINES, Iowa — Today marks the one-month point since Sen. John Kerry last answered questions from reporters traveling with him on the campaign trail.

The last time the Democratic presidential nominee took questions from them was Aug. 9 on the edge of the Grand Canyon, when the small traveling press pool accompanying him was allowed to ask eight questions.

And the last time Mr. Kerry held a full-fledged press conference where he faced questions from the entire corps of national reporters covering his campaign was Aug. 2 in Grand Rapids, Mich. He took two questions then.

Since early August, the only substantive policy question Mr. Kerry has answered was one lobbed at him by an ABC correspondent about whether he wanted to respond to Vice President Dick Cheney’s charge that Mr. Kerry wanted to wage a more “sensitive” war on terror.

“No, it’s just … it’s sad that they can only be negative,” Mr. Kerry said. “They have nothing to say about the future vision of America. I think Americans want a positive vision for the future.”

Last month, the Massachusetts senator promised that if elected he would hold monthly press conferences. That promise came amid reports that President Bush was restricting access to his rallies and town hall meetings to Bush supporters and volunteers, and was requiring them to sign a loyalty oath.

“I’m going to have a press conference at least once a month to talk to the nation about what I’m doing, because I don’t have anything to hide,” Mr. Kerry told a Wisconsin audience Aug. 3.

The president also has gone long stretches without a formal press conference. It has been a couple of months since his last one.

But White House officials said Mr. Bush often takes questions after making policy announcements to the press, or at the end of a meeting with a foreign leader.

“He takes questions on a regular basis. He did a number of interviews before the [Republican] convention,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters who asked about Mr. Bush’s availability yesterday.

Mr. Bush took questions from reporters at least four times in August, including Aug. 2, when he announced his plan to revamp U.S. intelligence services; Aug. 9, when he appeared with Poland’s prime minister; Aug. 15, when he toured damage from Hurricane Charley in Florida; and Aug. 23, when he answered a series of questions after meeting with his national security team at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

At his Grand Canyon press conference, Mr. Kerry said he would have voted to authorize the war in Iraq even if he had known that no weapons of mass destruction would be found.

It was a statement that has drawn ridicule from Republicans and disdain from some fellow Democrats who argue that the Iraq war is unrelated to the fight against terrorism.

Since then, campaign officials have kept a greater distance between Mr. Kerry and the reporters covering him.

Campaign spokesman David Wade said yesterday that “John Kerry talks to the American voters every day” and accused Mr. Bush of forcing attendees to his campaign events “to swear loyalty to his campaign.”

“The real question is why George Bush and his campaign are trying to dodge a national debate in front of a town hall of Americans,” Mr. Wade said. “It’s pretty clear they’re afraid to talk about their record.”

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